Insight & Analysis

Japanese people are learning to smile again!

Published: Jun 2023

People in Japan are signing up for lessons to teach them how to smile again, after being so used to wearing face masks during the Covid pandemic.

Face masks were already common in the East Asian country prior to the pandemic, with many people using them to combat hay fever as well as seasonal illnesses. But once it became official government guidance to wear them at the height of the outbreak, their use shot up.

When the government finally lifted its recommendation to wear masks, Himawari Yoshida was amongst those who realised she’s forgotten how to go about normal life without one. The 20-year-old said, “I hadn’t used my facial muscles much during Covid.” And to prepare herself to enter Japan’s job market, she has now hired the services of a ‘smile instructor’ saying its “good exercise.”

Keiko Kawano, who’s company is called Egaoiku (meaning ‘Smile Education’) is teaching Ms Yoshida and her classmates how to smile again. In one of the exercises, they hold mirrors up to their faces and stretch the sides of their mouths with their fingers.

Ms Kawano has seen a huge increase in demand for her lessons, which also include one-to-one sessions, starting at 7,700 yen (£44). She feels there is a growing need for people to smile with the return of tourists to the island.

Due to their sense of security as an island country, Ms Kawano believes Japanese nationals naturally smile much less than Westerners – a trend which has been exacerbated by the rise in mask wearing.

“Culturally, a smile signifies that I’m not holding a gun, and I’m not a threat to you,” she added.

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